Maintaining Power Tools

When my chop saw started smoking with every cut, I figured it needed some attention. The deck was difficult to move because of sawdust buildup in the slide mechanism and I’m sure the blade needs to be replaced. But, I didn’t have a clue how to fix these things, so I did a little digging.


Power tools are exposed to sawdust, dirt, and moisture and need to be cleaned after each use to avoid a complete shutdown. Unplug the tool from the wall outlet or remove the battery before cleaning. Regular maintenance of power tools makes them last longer and perform better. And if you have designated spaces to store them, you will be able to find them when they’re needed.

Deep clean the tool and its case periodically. Blow out the exhausts, intakes, decks, and undersides with compressed air. You can use a cotton swab or toothbrush if needed for hard to reach areas like air intake slots and toggle switches. Moisten a clean cloth and wipe down the entire tool. Avoid getting any water on the motor. Lubricate moving parts with machine oil or manufacturer’s recommended oil for best performance and to prevent rust.


Inspect your power tools for wear or damage. Are the cords frayed? If so, replace them to avoid electric shock to you or a fire. Replace any bent or loose prongs. Check the chuck on drills for corrosion or debris. Do moving parts work easily? Do saw blades need replacing?


What about batteries? Batteries can lose a charge when not in use, so if you only use them periodically, check them well before you need them and recharge before use if needed. Store batteries in their case if possible and check the terminals for breakage or moisture. Always have a backup ready to go as cordless batteries need a recharge around 70% capacity. Check for damage or cracks.

Regular Maintenance

Regular maintenance of power tools makes them last longer and perform better. Always take a little time to clean them off, blow pressurized air in the air vents and rub with a light coat of WD-40 oil before putting them away. And if you have designated spaces to store them, you will be able to find them when they’re needed. I plan to take my own advice and clean up my chop saw!!

Types of Screws

There are hundreds of styles and sizes of screws, but here is some basic information about some of the most commonly used by the DIYer. Screw heads can have mainly slotted, Phillips, star, or square grooves as well other heads for specific purposes. All require different screw drivers or bits that attach to the driver. Slotted heads may be the hardest to use because the groove is a straight slot and drivers can slip out easily. The other three types of drivers allow the tip of the driver to go deeper into the screw head and grab on so the driver doesn’t slip and it is easier to turn for a tight fit.

Drywall Screws – black screws with thinner thread and Phillips head (looks like an X and requires a Phillips screwdriver or bit to use. These are popular because the thinner thread makes it easier to screw into drywall, and the special bugle shape between the shank and head is designed so that it doesn’t break the drywall paper. Not recommended for wood, although many use it for wood projects.

Wood Screws – slightly fatter threads and may be more space between threads. Three basic head types are available plus specialty heads and usually require Phillips drivers or flat headed blade drivers. There is a shank between the thread and the head.

 Flat headed screws can be sunk below the wood surface and are cone shaped under the head.  Size is measured from the tip of the point to the top of the head.

Round headed wood screws sit on top of the material and may have threads placed farther apart than the other types and are usually thicker. Round head screws are measured from the tip of the point to the bottom of the head.

Oval headed wood screws can have a shorter thread and are countersunk with a cone shape under the head and a rounded top.

Sheet Metal Screws – There are many different types of sheet metal screws. They have the standard slots such as flat, Phillips, Square, or Star. Most common heads are pan head, and flat head.

Pan head screws are slightly rounded and have short straight sides.  The thread goes all the way to the base of the head. Choose the head best for your project.

Flat head screws have a flat top with a cone shape under the head cone.

Deck Screws – Deck screws have a unique shank design and  are easy to use without pre-predrilling due to their unique design. They must resist corrosion and rust  and must lay smoothly against the deck surface. These screws are usually 3 inches long and may be zinc coated and come in different colors.

With so many choices, it can be difficult to decide which screws are right for your project.  Consult the expert associate in the hardware department if you need help deciding the right screw for your project.


How to Harden off Seedlings

Plants grown from seed indoors need to be introduced to the outdoor world of sun, wind and cold nights gradually. Setting them out without hardening off can damage them beyond repair. You can think about moving them outside for a few hours a day when the daytime temperatures are above 40 degrees, but bring them back indoors if nights are still cool.

Increase Exposure Gradually

You want to start gradually moving your seedlings outside on a mild day to a location that is sheltered from wind and sun. Leave them out 2-3 hours the first day. It’s best to do this on a day when a hard rain is not expected.

After their introduction to the outdoors, move them back indoors until the next day. You can increase the length of time they are outside each day for a week. Gradually exposing them to weather will prepare them for transplanting in the garden.

Moving into the Garden

When you are able to plant them into the garden will depend on the plant.

Hardy plants like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and onions can be planted out when temperatures are in the 40s and are the only vegetable groups that can withstand a light frost.

Half-Hardy plants such as Celery, Bok Choy, spinach and lettuce can be planted out when temperatures reach 45 degrees consistently.

Tender plants vary in their temperature needs:

Squash, pumpkin, and sweet corn need temperatures at least 50 degrees.

Cucumber and melons need 60 degrees

Basil, tomatoes, and peppers like at least 65 degrees before going outside.

Choosing the Right Tree or Shrub

Where to Plant Trees.

In considering a location for your tree or shrub, consider the space you have available. If you want a tree that grows 25 feet or less, it needs to be planted at least 8 feet from your house and a tree that grows over 35 feet needs to be at least 15 feet from your house to avoid roots invading the foundation and sewer/water lines. Also, if you have a septic system, you don’t want to plant a tree over the system. Never plant trees under power lines or near sidewalks. The power company will eventually have to cut out the top of it or the tree roots will break up the sidewalk. Maple trees have roots that stay near the surface and are famous for breaking into sidewalks.

Deciding What Shrubs to Plant

People like to put evergreen shrubs in foundation plantings, then spend hours trimming and pruning to keep them shaped. When buying shrubs, read the tag to see how high it grows and how wide it spreads. How much work do you want in maintaining your shrubs? Do research online. Talk to the people at the garden center. They can guide you to the right shrub for your landscape. You might want to do a drawing of your yard and indicate where you want shrubs and the conditions there, such as light, soil condition, access to water and space available. This will help you decide which shrubs are right for the location when you are shopping.

Color in the Landscape

Flowering shrubs add color to the landscape. Some flower in spring and some flower a second time later in the year. Azaleas and rhododendrons flower in spring and holly produces colorful berries in winter. Many trees and shrubs have colorful fall leaves also. Another way to put color into your landscape is to use shrubs that have colorful leaves. For example, ninebark has purple foliage and flowers in spring. Black Lace Elderberry grows fast but needs lots of room. It’s black lacy foliage is a centerpiece in the landscape.

Lawn and Garden Tool Maintenance

Mowers. Gasoline powered mowers need a checkup to keep them running smoothly through the season. Disconnect the spark plug first to make it safer to work on the mower. Next remove any leftover gasoline which can become stale and negatively affect the carburetor. Drain the oil and replace with fresh oil and a new air filter. Turn the mower over, clean the blades and sharpen if needed, and remove any dried grass or leaves. Replace the spark plug and fill with fresh gasoline.

String Trimmers

For string trimmers, drain gasoline and oil mixture and replace with fresh. For both gas powered and electric, trimmers, turn them over and clean off any dried grass. Determine the type of spool your trimmer requires and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for replacement string. Keep extras on hand in case you need them in the middle of a job.

Digging and Raking Tools

Shovels, rakes, forks, and hoes accumulate dirt and grime and become dull. At the end of the season, or in the spring if necessary, examine each tool and remove any dirt or rust. Sharpen blades, sand smooth any rough wooden handles and apply a coat of linseed oil or other lubricant to protect them from drying out.

Pruners and Loppers

The cutting edge of pruners and loppers needs to be sharpened at least once a year. Take the tools apart using the screw at the bottom of the jaws and sharpen the blade with a whetstone or kitchen sharpener. Apply some oil to the blades to prevent rust and reassemble.

If your tools are just too old and worn out, consider replacing them.

When to Move Plants into the Garden

Just before seedlings grown indoors are ready to transplant into their final garden spot, you will need to gradually introduce them to the outside environment. Move them outside on a mild, preferably cloudy day and let them sit in the shade each day until they become accustomed to the wind and weather. Keep exposing them to the outside a few hours each day for at least a week.

Cool Weather Plants

Some vegetables that you might start indoors such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, like cool weather and would be perfectly happy going outside as soon as the ground warms up a bit. In fact, they will probably bolt (go to seed and become bitter) when the weather gets too hot so you should time their planting so they mature before the hottest part of the summer. Peas, spinach, kale, carrots, radishes and fennel also like the cooler temperatures of late spring. Lettuces mature quickly but some varieties don’t like hot weather, so they can be planted early and late in the season.

Warm Weather Plants

Tomatoes and peppers need the heat and sunshine to develop plenty of produce.  These plants can be moved outside about two weeks after the last frost date if the soil is at least 65 degrees and nights are above 50. Other heat loving vegetables include eggplant, tomatillos, squash family, melons, and cucumbers. Heat tolerant varieties of lettuce such as Buttercrunch and Summer Crisp, Jericho Romaine, and Black Seeded Simpson can be grown in the summer between the cool varieties and harvested young.

Planting Seeds Directly into the Garden

Many vegetables can be seeded directly into the garden such as peas, beans, squash, cucumber, lettuce, collards, and radishes since they germinate quickly. Using row covers (thin cloth used to keep out bugs and protect against frost) will allow you to plant many vegetables directly outside earlier. Just be sure to remove the row covers for pollination.

Spring Lawn Maintenance

Winter weather can alter the pH of your soil and make an attractive home for weeds and disease. If you are happy with your lawn, a light raking could be all that you need to do. Rake up any leaves left over from fall, chop them into smaller pieces and use in the compost bin or as mulch for raised beds.

If you have high spots that get cut too low or low spots that collect water, you may want to address those by filling in the low spots or cutting down the high spots, then reseed using straw to cover seeds till they sprout.

Seeds germinate best when soil temperature is consistently 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Once patches have filled in you can fertilize your lawn with a slow-release, low-nitrogen product. Mow when the grass reaches 3 or 4 inches high.

Mower Settings

Mowing grass too short damages the leaf blades where nutrients are stored. It also exposes more soil so weed seeds can take hold. Taller grass, with its larger root system and tolerance to heat, is better able to compete with weeds. Taking off only the top third of the blades allows less stress on the grass and the clippings will decompose and nourish the grass, saving you from raking cut grass.

Pre-emergent Weed Control

Pre-emergent herbicides prevent seeds from germinating. So, if you are planting grass seed this spring, don’t use herbicides until your new grass has germinated and is doing well. These herbicides are commonly used on lawns to prevent crabgrass and other noxious weeds.  For best effect, wait to spread herbicides until air temperatures reach 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. A second application in the fall can be applied when temperatures reach 55-60 degrees consistently.

Potting Up Seedlings

The first leaves that appear on seedlings after germination are called Cotyledons. These Cotyledons provide food and nutrition for the sprouting seedling. Two more leaves will appear after the Cotyledons that will look more like the plants’ normal leaves and are called “true leaves”. The Cotyledons will eventually fall off as the seedling can now actively photosynthesize.

Time to Pot Up

Once the seedlings develop true leaves, they may grow out of their starting pots and need to be transplanted into a larger pot if it is too early to transplant them to the garden. This interim pot should be about 3-4 inches in diameter. If you don’t want to purchase plastic 3 or 4 inch pots, you can use the large red plastic cups, large yogurt containers, clean pots from last year’s plants, or whatever you have that is about 3-5 inches tall and 3-4 inches in diameter. If you use pots/cups without holes in the bottom, use a knife or drill and make drainage holes.

What About Soil and Pots?

You can use good bagged potting soil or topsoil mixed with some compost or aged and composted manure. Never add fresh manure to soil you are planting in as it can burn the roots. Prepare your potting space with your soil on one side, your pots within easy reach and the seedlings you want to pot up.  Place soil about half way up the pot. Using a knife or small spoon gently reach under the seedling and lift it out from the bottom. With very thin, fragile stems, hold the seedlings by the leaves, not the stems.  Place in the middle of the pot and add soil, packing the soil gently around the base of the plant. If more than one seed germinated, cut off the weaker one. Place the pot into a tray with holes for drainage and water well. Your seedlings are now ready to go back under the lights or into a sunny window until your garden soil is warm enough. Old venetian blinds cut into small pieces make great labels, so be sure to identify everything you potted up.

Growing Seedlings Under Lights

You can germinate seeds and grow plants under lights anywhere in your house or basement where it is warm. Most seeds need 60 -70 degrees to germinate. A group of friends rented a small greenhouse and we started our seeds there before moving them to the basement, but you can start seeds under these lights also. Check your seed packets to see how many weeks ahead of last frost date you need to plant seeds. It is not too late to get started now for planting outside in June.

How Many Lights?

For a 30X72 inch table, I used three 48-inch shop light fixtures with two 40 watt daylight bulbs in each fixture. You can also use one warm and one cool light in each fixture. Since I am growing them in the basement, I attached 3 one and one-half inch PVC pipe hangers to every other rafter and threaded one and one-half inch by 6 foot PVC pipe through each hangar. For a larger table, use a longer pipe and an additional light fixture or two perpendicular to the first three. From the PVC pipe, I suspended 36-inch long chains to hold the light fixtures. Loop one end over the pipe and secure below with S hooks. Attach 1 inch rings and S hooks to the top of the light fixture. Thread the chain through the ring and attach with the S hook. As you need to raise the light fixtures, just move the S hooks up a couple of notches.

How Many Plant Trays per Table?

Seed starting trays have two parts. The bottom tray has an open weave pattern to let water pass through. Inside that tray goes a plug tray which can have between 24 to 72 cells to plant seeds in. A standard plant tray is about 10 inches wide and 21 inches long. I had room under the lights for 4 trays side to side and 2 trays length wise, then one regular or 2 smaller ones on the end. On an 8-foot table, I would place additional trays on the end and use appropriate length lights to cover all the trays.  One light should provide adequate light for the width of one tray, so for each long row, place the lights over the middle of the tray. Lights should remain on at least 16 hours each day.

You will be so proud of your plants.


Different Kinds of Mulch

Most people think of mulch as that black, brown or red stuff made from wood chips and artificially colored. I admit, I have used the black stuff myself because I like the look, especially for walkways. However, these chips take a long time to break down. This may be an advantage if you are using it for walkways but there are other materials that will give your plants nutrition as it breaks down. Mulching with the right stuff preserves moisture, puts back some nutrients the plants use up, and cools the root zone.

Bark as Mulch

You don’t necessarily want to mix bark into your soil because it can tie up the nitrogen available to plants until it is fully decomposed. If you use it to top dress your plants, as it breaks down, it won’t tie up the nitrogen and will release nitrogen that the plants can use.  Cypress or pine bark mulch has a nice look and doesn’t put dyes into your soil.

Compost as Mulch

Compost, either something you have composted yourself or a quality bagged compost, is a great mulch.  As water washes through the compost, it puts beneficial nutrients into the soil where the plants can access it. Well-aged compost such as animal manure mixed with straw, is a nutrient rich mulch for your plants and can be used in holes when planting new plants.

Grass as Mulch

Grass clippings whether green or dried are a great mulch for plants and vegetables. As it breaks down, it enhances the soil, suppresses weeds and preserves moisture. Grass clippings break down fairly quickly and provide nitrogen which plants need. If using fresh grass, layer only about one-fourth inch to avoid grass that stays too wet and may smell as it breaks down. A mixture of dried grass and shredded leaves (1 part grass to 2 parts leaves) mixed into your planting beds will break down quickly and creates very healthy soil.

Straw as Mulch

Straw works very well in the vegetable garden to keep weed seeds from germinating, retaining water, and as it breaks down, it puts nutrients back into the soil. Straw is very inexpensive if you don’t grow it yourself and most garden centers have bales available in the spring. Straw bales also work very well for growing vegetables if you don’t have much space for an in-ground garden. Check out Straw Bale Gardening next week.